Album #197: Swell Maps – A Trip To Marineville

  • Released: 1979
  • Origin: Birmingham, England
  • Label: Rather/Rough Trade
  • Best Track: Midget Submarines

Time for another trip back into post-punk’s murky past. Birmingham band Swell Maps were actually formed in 1972, but little of their early work is available and it wasn’t until the end of the ’70s that they started to get attention.

Swell Maps have a strange and fragmented history. They broke up shortly after releasing their second album in 1980, and the two brothers who fronted the band both died young (Epic Soundtracks age 38, Nicky Sudden age 47). They’ve released several compilations over the years but only put out two studio albums, the first of which was A Trip To Marineville in 1979.

Even this feels somewhat like a compilation. It’s kind of bitty, but I really like it. Some tracks, like ‘Ripped and Torn’ and ‘International Rescue’, are pretty conventional rock and roll. Others, like the eight-minute ‘Gunboats’, are completely arty and dissonant.

In the first few seconds of the album, we get a piano slide, which sums up some of the peculiar juxtaposition we hear over the course of its 22 tracks. On record, it must have been difficult to work out which track you were listening to, with ones like ‘Shout the Angels’ stopping and changing midway through.

Like the picture of a burning house on the cover, the album is chaotic and troubling. At times it settles into a groove though, with ‘Midget Submarines’ a classic example of the sort of sound the likes of Wire, The Fall and Public Image Ltd. were driving at the time.

I suppose the one constant is the guitars, which are echoey, clanging and buzzsaw-like throughout. It’s a fascinating listen, and and album I’d definitely recommend to anyone wanting to explore the tapestry of British post-punk.

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